Paul Kasonkomona

Paul Kasonkomona

Well-know Zambian human rights and HIV activist Paul Kasonkomona has been acquitted of charges of speaking out on television in support of LGBT equality.

Kasonkomona (38) was arrested in April last year as he left a Lusaka television studio after making comments on live television supporting the rights of LGBT people and sex workers.

He argued that these needed to be recognised in order to effectively combat the country’s HIV pandemic.

Kasonkomona was charged with violating section 178(g) of the Zambian Penal Code, which criminalises “every person who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes”.

He was jailed for more than three days and was reportedly not allowed access to his HIV medication before being granted bail.

On Tuesday, after a lengthy legal process, the Lusaka Magistrate’s Court found that the government had failed to prove its case.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported Kasonkomona’s legal battle, described the ruling as “a stinging defeat for the authorities.”

“This is a great victory for freedom of expression in Zambia,” said Anneke Meerkotter from SALC. “If speech is stifled through the application of outdated criminal laws, Zambians will find themselves unable to openly discuss and debate some issues of real importance to them.”

Consensual adult same-sex acts are criminalised in Zambia. Offences such as sodomy, or sex between women, carry a minimum sentence of 15 years or a maximum of life in prison. Attempts to have sex without being successful are punishable by a minimum sentence of seven years or a maximum of 14 years jail time.

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